We can celebrate International Women’s Day in our Basha production centres. The theme, #balanceforbetter, resonates as we see women working away on Basha handmade products, signing their name with pride on the items they made, sending their children off to school in fresh uniforms and a backpack full of books. We know they are becoming more empowered every day. But when I recently visited several Bangladesh brothels, I remembered how much more work there is to be done to fulfill our dream of a day when all women in Bangladesh have freedom and dignity.
Winding deep in dark hallways during a power outage at a brothel in Faridpur town, I met Nasrin*, a beautiful, warm person. She came from a family known well in the brothels, but, with her sister there, she was able to marry and escape that life… until her husband found out about her family history and deserted her and their two daughters. She sent her daughters to an Islamic school. She doesn’t want them to ever find out how she earns the money to provide for them.
Kushi* is heavily pregnant. She was promised a good job in a factory… only to find herself in a brothel. I whispered to her about Basha, how we could give her training and housing and help her escape this life. We are working with an organization that works closely with the brothels, and we hope to build trust and raise awareness.
The next day we visited another brothel built on stilted buildings on the rivers edge. We met a woman who had actually worked abroad as a medical worker. Upon returning to Bangladesh, her husband sold her to a brothel. Her current boyfriend seemed to be selling her and another girl who had only been there three weeks- lured from her job in a garments factory, promised something better. I begged both of them to consider joining us, longing for them to escape this life of selling themselves. She was anxiously looking for where her boyfriend was and voiced, “next year.”
I have never met anyone who chose the brothel, who thought it sounded like a good life. But it’s not easy to escape. Many women have brokers, madams, pimps. By the time a woman is independent, she has often given up hope of any different kind of future. Brothels have their own culture, their own freedoms, their own community. To take a giant leap into the unknown is terrifying.
Working through partner organizations and outreach workers, we will continue to invite, continue to build trust, continue to stir hope. We can’t erase the horrors of years spent being prostituted, but we can promise to walk alongside any woman who is able to take that brave step to freedom. We can promise to fight not one day a year, but every day, to Balance for Better.
This year, celebrate women’s day by joining us to help give women trapped in this dark and painful life a chance of freedom. We need funds to do outreach to brothel women, to host drop in events, to build relationships, and to provide support and services for those interested in starting a journey to a new life. Donate today.
Photos by Allison Joyce.